When I was four, I had a best friend, Stacy. Stacy took dance classes with Mario—no last name—and when we had play dates, she’d show me the steps intoning, “A one-a-two, three, four; a one-a-two, three, four.”
It was so CATCHY. I couldn’t get that rhythm out of my head. In plaintive tones, I asked my mother, “Can I take lessons with Mario?”
And so my mother signed me up for classes, purchasing the requisite pink Danskin tights and leotards, and a pair of Capezio ballet slippers. Once a week, at the studio (also called “Mario,” no last name), I immersed myself in the world of dance. Like the other little dance-crazy girls, I looked at the older, advanced dancers with the deepest yearning, and wished with all my might to metamorphose from chunky shapeless child to something like their graceful, long-necked beauty.
Last night, I revisited those fond memories of dance as I watched a local production by and for women called Dames of the Dance, a feast of jazz, hip-hop, break dance, ballet, modern, tap, folk dance, and more. The show had a theme, Woman of Valor, with each dance representing an aspect of what it means to be strong, valorous women. The dances were introduced by film clips of women whose life stories complemented the underlying meanings of the dances.
One such introduction was a powerful synopsis of the story of two sisters, Holocaust survivors Dina Katz and Aliza Auerbach who, separated by war, held fast to the dream of reuniting. This clip precedes a poignant and effecting modern dance sequence called Rachel and Leah, based on the story of the biblical sisters. With a few gestures, the dancers illustrate the painful substitution of one sister for another.
As a mother of many I thrilled to the multimedia performance, Motherhood. Here, the dancers strive toward an age-old conclusion, as the music taps out an insistent pulse. A backdrop of photos by Rebecca Kowalsky depicts the full range of motherly emotions: joy, concern, connection, pride, with the final photo a classic triangle of mother, father, and newborn in the first moments after birth. In the mother’s face we see the immediacy of her tender love for the infant, and the utter joy of bursting forth with new life. I was right there on the delivery table feeling those feelings again.
Strong Women, a break dance performance by the students of Raquella Raiz, had me holding on to the edge of my seat. These warrior women in animal print costumes were fierce—like, “Don’t mess with my cubs.” What mother hasn’t felt THAT? How compelling to see it in dance.
One of the modern dance pieces, featuring DAMES’ choreographers, appealed very strongly to me for the color combination of the costumes (blue and mustard) and for the dark Yiddish tune in the background. This piece just spoke to me, grabbed my Jewish kishkes (intestines) and said, “Here. I am your history.”
A sense of connection to the performers is forged at the outset with an introductory clip featuring educator Shani Taragin. Taragin explains that the true meaning of an “Eshet Chayil” (Woman of Valor) is one who uses her special “kochot” or strengths, to better the world. For these women, it’s dance. For me, it’s all about music and writing.
What luck then, that I live in Efrat, where we have such a rich variety of performance opportunities. I’ve written before about Raise Your Spirits and how the theater troupe was born in 2001 against a backdrop of terror. Dames of the Dance was born in 2007, as a remedy to local poverty. As Sharon Katz, founder of both performance companies and producer of Dames put it, “We give women a safe environment in which they can try their wings, expand their creativity and express themselves freely.”
Katz had learned that contrary to the stereotyped image of Efrat and Gush Etzion as wealthy communities, there were some 360 resident families living below the poverty line. It was unacceptable to Sharon that people in her neighborhood would go without while she did nothing. She thought about all the talented women in her regular dance class and knew that her “sistahs” would be glad for the chance to do a good deed.
The decision was made: the women would dance for charity. Her good friend and fellow performer Fayge Bedell said, “Who do you think we are? Lord of the Dance?”
Sharon said, “No. But we could be DAMES of the Dance.”
As Taragin says, women can use their strengths to better the world. Dames of the Dance proves the theory. Now into its sixth year, the show has (until now) raised an estimated 190,000 NIS to fund Kimcha D’Pischa (food for the needy at Passover) for local families through the auspices of the Gush Etzion Foundation.
For Sharon and the other performers in Dames, then, dance is a form of spiritual connection. “Our dancers are all ages, on all levels of dance ability and from countries all over the world. Our common language and love is dance. And when we dance for others, we feel that we have raised our dance to a level above performance, something that is more meaningful than the dance itself,” says Katz.
Dames of the Dance
Producer: Sharon Katz
Associate Producers: Cheryl Mandel, Bati Katz (Sharon’s daughter, who also does all the technical production work!)
Dance advisors: Jocelyn Odenheimer and Judy Kizer
Varda Epstein is a mother of 12, a sometimes performer, and a Communications Writer for Kars4Kids